On Reading Big Books

I have always been a reader, and I’m fairly nondiscriminatory when it comes to what I read (though as a young girl, I mostly refused to read anything unless it was about a girl of the same age as myself–thankfully I grew out of that). If it’s good, if it captures my attention, I’ll read it till the end. If it’s boring, poorly written, or if I’m simply not in the mood for it, I won’t hesitate before casting it aside. This has made the completion of “big books” a difficulty for me.

I’ve never been a reader of the classics. I trudged through Jane Austen in college for a class, and while I want to say “Oh gosh, she’s just the best,” it’s just not in me to lie to you guys about it. In that same vein, books that come in at more than 500 pages are just plain intimidating. If you’re a reader, I know you have a TBR (To Be Read) stack that’s probably a mile long. Mine is no exception–in fact, working at the library makes me feel like the whole damn building is my TBR pile. There are SO many books out there you guys, thousands that I want to read and haven’t had a chance to, and every week new books are coming out that get added to that list.  Big Books, Classic Books–they take time, a luxury I do not currently have.

So. While I remain happily reading from a variety of genres, I have to admit that the bigger the book is, the less likely I am to pick it up. 1- I have doubts about it being able to keep my attention for all of its pages and 2- In the time it will take me to read one 800 page book, I could read THREE other normal sized books.  And, as an obsessive GoodReads Book Challenge participant, it’s about the numbers.

And now, as I write this all down, I realize just how absurd that sounds. Who cares how many books I read in a year? Who cares if I’m not a speed reader or if I’m into the classics?  All that matters is that I love reading words on pages that tell stories to entertain, enlighten, and educate me about the world around me (whether they are fantastical or true).

So what inspired this post is the fact that I am currently reading a Big Book.  Recommended to me by one of our library clerks, I picked up “Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles. I’ve never read his books (apparently there are quite a few)–I hadn’t even heard of him before. But the clerk was raving about how incredible the writing was–and so I grabbed it off the shelf.

Weighing in at almost 800 pages, I had some severe doubts. Even after I made it 60 pages in, I wondered how I would fare. As someone who bores easily, knowing I still had 720 pages to go was a little too daunting. But, as I write this, I’m currently bookmarked at 410 pages, and the book is all I think about. It’s that good. I’m trying to suppress the anxiety at having been reading the same book for well over a week, and that I will continue to be reading the same book for the next week or two as well.  And I’m trying to force myself to get work done instead of hiding under my desk with the gargantuan novel open in my lap. I even walked with it the other day (giving myself quite the arm workout as I traveled the road for 2.5 miles).

And so I am trying to convert. I’m going to try to be less obsessed with my GoodReads Book count (because really, who am I competing with? Myself? I know that it’s Monica’s favorite kind of competition–apologies for those who don’t get the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. reference–but for me, I need to go back to remembering that reading is a joy, not a race). I’m not going to let Big Books scare me. Hell, maybe I’ll even give Anna Karenina another shot–I made it 200 pages in and got frustrated, but perhaps this summer will be my Summer of Big Books. I’ll keep you apprised of my progress. Maybe if I slip in a short, sweet YA novel between the big ones, it’ll help keep me focused.

What about you, Dear Readers? Do you like Big Books and you cannot lie? Or are you intimidated by page counts? Do you have a favorite Big Book I should add to that ever growing TBR of mine? Let me know!

One thought on “On Reading Big Books

  1. Amanda Dawson says:

    I love that you ended with an allusion to Sir Mixalot. I don’t necessarily love big books and I definitely understand the intimidation factor but that is what I love about reading on the kindle app. I know it is probably something that can be controlled in settings, but I like that my app doesn’t give me the page numbers but rather the percentage. (Also, I like to read without my glasses on and the kindle allows me to supersize the font.) If I don’t know the size of the book, it doesn’t bother me. The percentage, however, intrigues me. When I read The Hunger Games trilogy (I don’t know how to underline titles on a blog) I didn’t realize all three books were in one file and I thought, this book is really exciting for only 33% in. It is also how I knew something was up with Gone Girl when everything seemed to be working out at 25%. I like analyzing what I’m reading and that includes the structure of the story itself.

    I do love classics though. Not all of them, but most. I like most classics for the same reason I like Shakespeare – there’s something challenging there but also something universal. I often tell my students that Romeo and Juliet is a 9th grade rite of passage…who doesn’t know someone that age who has fallen IN LOVE at a party and is ready to runaway with them. Also, Shakespeare doesn’t skimp on plot. A lot happens in those three hours. But such is the nature of a play. Today my classes finished watching the most recent movie version of Gatsby, which I also love. I used to find myself figuring out if the people I knew were more like Daisy or Tom, Nick or Gatsby. The themes and values of that time seem more prevalent today, regardless of articulation and refinement, people still have wavering morals and somewhat shallow justifications for their decisions. I feel like a modern retelling of Gatsby might be called something like Elitist Problems.

    Then there are the big book classics which I haven’t given much attention. The audio book for Atlas Shrugged is 66 hours! In 10th grade we read A Tale of Two Cities and remember thinking I had read 6+ pages just describing a room in a courthouse. Great big classics, I think, need a facilitator to help me understand and motivate me to keep going. I’m not afraid of investing the time into the reading, but I also get easily distracted…just like I am right now! I have to go on a kindergarten field trip…to the library!!! Hopefully we will pick out some entirely different big books!!!!


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